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Gosden warns of 'dangerous' delays for horses' welfare

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John Gosden: ‘It’s not going to be pleasant and a lot of people are going to go out of business’. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

John Gosden: ‘It’s not going to be pleasant and a lot of people are going to go out of business’. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

John Gosden: ‘It’s not going to be pleasant and a lot of people are going to go out of business’. Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images

John Gosden, England's champion Flat trainer, is, like all his colleagues, champing at the bit for the resumption of UK racing a week today, not only so he can get his horses out doing what they are born to do, but to see his industry play its part in helping fire up the economy.

"One understands this is a sinister virus which doesn't behave in the normal fashion and which is not fully understood," says the British trainer.

"I accept all the contingencies and protocols, but going into lockdown was much easier than coming out of it. My greatest concern is that if we don't get back to work we will leave the next generation in debt for 50 years and fundamentally ruin the prospects of many.

"If you're between 15 and 25 life's looking pretty ruined and it's likely a lot of companies are going to realise they can manage without the people they have furloughed. Racing can go ahead. We are the world's No 1 country for Flat racing and jump racing - there aren't many things that the UK is No 1 at in the world. We are ready to get back. We've got to get back."

Gosden (69) can speak with some authority on economic matters, not only as the experienced boss of one of the most successful businesses in his field, but before he followed his late father into training in 1979 with three horses at Santa Anita, he studied economics at Cambridge.

Flowing

He returned to Britain in 1989 and, having had relatively successful spells at Stanley House Stables, from where he sent out his first Derby winner, Benny The Dip, and at Manton, it has been since he bought and finally settled at Clarehaven Stables on Newmarket's Bury Road in 2007 that the results have really started flowing.

Apart from horses which make the short distance from Coolmore to Ballydoyle, Clarehaven has become the go-to destination for many of the most expensive thoroughbreds in the northern hemisphere.

From there Gosden, who rescued Frankie Dettori's career when taking him back as stable jockey six years ago, has been champion trainer four times. He is also the source of three of the past five Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe winners (Golden Horn and Enable twice).

The initial challenge for all trainers was to get through lockdown. "The one thing not everyone realises is that these are racehorses we are dealing with," he says. "They are not any old horse which you can turn out in a field or lock up in a stable, they are highly refined athletes. They need exercise every day or they become a nervous ball of energy.

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"Throughout, the lads have been very happy to come in and exercise them. But we are fortunate it is all done out in the fresh air, they are socially distanced anyway and it's been a sunny, dry spring.

"There are 2,500 horses in Newmarket Heath, all exercising, and there's not been a sign of this horrible illness. In most respects it's been reasonably normal - except for no racing in the afternoon.

"We've been ready to race behind closed doors for some time. Initially we were training them for a May 1 resumption, then May 15 and now June 1. That's when it becomes dangerous. Physically and mentally you are building the horses up but it's not like you can sit down a football squad and say, 'We're not going for another fortnight'.

"Everyone [the staff] has been superb. We gave them the option not to come in but they all came in, they love being with their horses and I think they took the view what a joy to be riding out in beautiful weather, instead of being locked in the house."

However, as Gosden points out, coming out of lockdown is proving more problematic. He fears that, like a lot of industries, racing will look very different; he expects there to be fewer owners, a lack of demand for young thoroughbreds, and that a new structure will be necessary to see it through the next 25 years.

"Sadly, I do think it will contract a great deal," he says. "The ownership base will be smaller, prize-money will be down and we'll have to restructure the industry. It won't be in the right shape for what is coming. Racing, racecourses and breeding are all facing a problem. But it is true of a lot of industries, it's not just us and one feels for restaurants, theatreland, many others; it's not going to be pleasant and a lot of people are going to go out of business.

"I can see the sense of Ascot adding a race a day and there may be some demand for that to be repeated, but they would have to be careful racing five days straight with seven races a day if, for example, it rained a lot.

"In the old days, pushing back a race by a fortnight might have been possible, but there was no Australia, no Breeders' Cup, no Hong Kong. Now you have to look at the international picture. But after this there will be nothing not on the table to be debated.

"This year it will hit the precocious two-year-olds and the three-year-old crop. It will make it hard to assess the Classic generation and I think they will find it hard to put on enough meetings to satisfy demand." (© Daily Telegraph, London)


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